When David L. Kleinfelter went to his county courthouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania back in 2004 to deal with some problem tenants in apartments he owned, he found that he was unable to get around easily in his wheelchair. Doorways were too narrow, bathrooms didnâ€™t have amenities he could use, and elevators were difficult to operate.
Kleinfelter, 65, has been confined to a wheelchair since 1966 due to complications he suffered due to injuries while serving as a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War.
After complaining to public officials and not getting a response, Kleinfelter filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Finally, several years later, the county commissioners voted to accept a settlement with the justice department that outlines a series of corrective measures the county must implement and a timetable for their completion.
Amy Macinati, the county’s special counsel, notes that the Department of Justice inspected all 20 district courts in Lancaster County in response to Kleinfelter’s complaint. As a result, the justice department and the county entered into settlement negotiations “to avoid litigation,” Macinanti said.
The first order of the settlement agreement is for the county to pay Kleinfelter $1,000.
Two of the county’s district courts were built within the past year and are fully ADA accessible. The other 18 are not. Beginning next year, when a proceeding has to be moved to accommodate a disabled person, the county will compensate that person for “reasonable additional” travel expenses, according to the settlement documents.
Within the next three years, the following improvements must be made:
â€¢ Reducing the pressure required to open several doors.
â€¢ Decreasing the slope of ramps in various court areas.
â€¢ Moving toilets and other bathroom amenities so they are easier to reach for people in wheelchairs.
â€¢ Installing handrails in several locations.
â€¢ â€œAssistive listening systems” must be provided for the deaf or hard-of-hearing at the courthouse and for use in the district courts so they can follow court proceedings.
â€¢ Within the next six months, the county must hire or appoint an ADA coordinator, whose job will be to make sure the county completes all the requirements of the settlement and to investigate complaints of ADA violations.
“Obviously, we never intended to fight or oppose this,” said Scott Martin, chairman of the county commissioners. “Our mentality all along has been to work with the Department of Justice to come to a resolution.”
Kleinfelter was disappointed that it took so long to resolve the issue.
“That’s too long to mess around with a disabled person’s rights,” he said. “The people at the courthouse just don’t care.”
Due to Kleinfelterâ€™s perseverance, 18 more buildings are becoming ADA compliant to accommodate more wheelchair users and others with disabilities. Despite the length of time it took to make the change that is necessary, David L. Kleinfelter made a difference.